Over the years I’ve tried a variety of different camp pillows, all of them leaving me feeling like a backcountry Goldilocks — too stiff, too soft, too bulky, too loud, too warm, too clammy — never just right.
In fact, I had given up entirely and settled on stuffing my pack pods with soft adventure layers and calling it 'good enough'.
This was a decent fix and a dual use for something I was already carrying, but I would wake up to find the pack pod had slipped off my air pad or was squished flat in one corner, and having to fix it interrupted my sleep.
Since we all know that sleep is our superpower and an important recovery tool both on and off the trail, I figured it was worth finding a fix.
One day, by stroke of serendipity, and the goodwill of the slumber gods, into my world walked the Pillow Strap, a simple but ingenious solution to all those pesky camp pillow qualms.
The Pillow Strap is essentially a tri-fold pillow case with a slot on the back to insert an inflatable pillow or stuff with a softgood (think puffy jacket). The material is soft and stretchy, made from a blend of poly and spandex.
It has an adjustable, elasticized strap attached at both sides, which wraps around the back of your air pad and holds your pillow in place no matter how much you toss and turn.
Pillow Strap … get it? Brilliant. A true game changer.
From the first night I tried out my Pillow Strap, I knew we'd be in it for the long haul.
Unbeknownst to us, my partner and I set up camp next to an aid station for a hundred mile foot race along the famed Pine Creek Rail Trail in North Central Pennsylvania. All night long, a woman cheered like a soprano singer and rang her cowbell as weary runners entered the tent to top up their carb supply.
Me? I slept right through the night, pillow stuffed to my liking with my Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket, perfectly positioned under my noggin, securely fastened to my Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite airpad. And, amazingly, when I woke up the next morning, my pillow was in the exact same spot as it had been when I laid down to sleep the night before.
Careful to make sure this wasn't a one-off experience, I continued to use my Pillow Strap night after night with various configurations of soft goods stuffed inside — flannels, underlayers, rain gear — all with equal success.
The fabric, which comes in various colors and patterns has the perfect amount of stretch so that it never feels stiff or stuck when I roll over. It's whisper quiet, soft but not fuzzy, doesn't make my head sweaty and somehow absorbs all the dream drool that I can throw at it without smelling manky or weird, even after a few unwashed weeks of use.
The Pillow Strap comes in two different sizes — small and medium — to accommodate an array of air pad shapes and widths, as well as a wide variety of camp pillow sizes.
It works best with rectangular or mummy shaped air pads with a slight curve, but will also jive with closed cell foam pads, noting it tends to curve up at the sides a bit. The Pillow Strap isn't super compatible air pads that have long, rounded corners at the head area, such as the ‘mummy’ style Exped mattresses.
The Pillow Strap weighs a nominal 2 oz for the small size and 2.7 oz for the medium; and while extreme ounce counters might look to do away with the flat, back buckle, I think it's essential and negligible weight, worth the magic it performs.
The Pillow Strap is also super compact, easily tucking into a pocket or held in one hand.
I love that you can really load it up with layers, or have it super svelte if that's your sleeping style. The ability to customize it is great. At first, I was just stuffing it willy nilly but overtime, I found that folding my jacket would add some nice structure to the pillow and enhance the experience.
If you don't want to sacrifice a softgood to stuffing your pillow, (heck, you might need to wear that puffy jacket) you can always opt for an inflatable pillow instead.
The price is on point, ranging from $35 - $40 USD. This simple slumber enhancer is handmade by Brian York and Rita Yamin in their spare bedroom in Chicago, Illinois.
Pillow Strap has noticeably improved the tent sleeping game for both myself and my partner, and countless other adventurers who've had it under their heads.
Pros of the Pillow Strap
- Improves sleep!
- Available in different sizes & colors
- Made in USA
- Doesn't work well with steep sided mummy pads
- Fits pillows up to: 14"L x 11"W
- Fits sleeping pads up to 25"W x 4"T
- Packed size: 3.75" x 1.5"
- Weight: 2oz
- Fits pillows up to: 18"L x 13"W
- Fits sleeping pads up to 25"W x 4"T
- Packed size: 3.75" x 2"
- Weight: 2.7oz
Materials: 88% Polyester 12% Spandex
Cost: $35 - $40 USD
I now consider the Pillow Strap to be a crucial part of my adventure sleep system and an integral part of my deep sleep recovery program when out on the trail.
Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker.